Waste Advantage Magazine

Santa Clara converts low concentration landfill gas to clean energy


Landfills are an excellent source of methane-rich gas that can be used to generate renewable power. Methane is produced at a landfill as trash decomposes and can be used as fuel for a gas generator to produce electricity. Since 1986, the City of Santa Clara had successfully done this, and had been able to export power to a local utility. However, over time, gas production at a closed landfill began to decline, and the original solution had to be taken offline.

In 2006, the City of Santa Clara started the process to identify a replacement energy solution. Santa Clara and Ameresco’s (Framingham, MA) team investigated the potential for a new power project at the same landfill to make use of the naturally occurring methane gas that was still being produced at the site and generate renewable energy in the process. The City then partnered with Ameresco, Inc. to design, build, own and operate a new landfill gas-to-energy plant at the closed Santa Clara All Purpose Landfill.

A Practical Solution
The old 2.5 MW reciprocating engine had been shut down in the 1990s due to the decline of adequate gas flow from the aging site. While the landfill continued to produce some gas, there was not enough to run the original large platform engine and the gas was once again flared to meet environmental requirements. In order to keep the flare burning, it required supplemental natural gas because the landfill gas stream was too low in concentration. The City was seeking a new practical solution for the remaining landfill gas, rather than have it continue as an expense and waste stream.

To eliminate the need for the City to put up capital required for the project, the City of Santa Clara entered into a contract with Ameresco, one of the largest independent energy solutions companies in North America, to design, build, own and operate the innovative system. In turn, the City’s electric utility, Silicon Valley Power, purchases the renewable energy resource from Ameresco for its customers. This project lets the City once again use a waste stream as a resource without burdening the City with capital costs and project risk. The new plant provides a long-term resource of renewable energy that meets the stringent California Air Quality standards.

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